Black Friday creeping earlier into Thursday

Shoppers wheel their purchases out of a Walmart store in Los Angeles, Calif., before dawn on Black Friday. Retailers are trying to lure holiday shoppers earlier with guarantees that doorbuster items will be available.

Black Friday is starting earlier than ever this year. Even though the calendar this year allows for the most shopping days possible between Thanksgiving and Christmas, retailers want more time. So, Walmart will open at 8 p.m. on Thanksgiving night.

That could be a welcome change for consumers who aren’t morning people and don’t enjoy setting the alarm clock for an early shopping spree.

“The hours are exactly what our customers want," says Sarah Spencer, spokesperson for Walmart. "They told us that they’d rather stay up late than get up early." 

It’s part of a trend. Retailers start earlier each year.  Last year, it was 10 p.m. on Thanksgiving. But the early hours are not what gets the attention of Morningstar equity analyst Michael Keara. He’s more interested in Walmart’s guarantee that certain discounted loss-leaders will be available in stores.

“A lot of consumers have been complaining as they go into these Black Friday events, they wait in line and a lot of times they don’t get the item they want because it’s out of stock,” says Keara.

Walmart guarantees that consumers who are in its stores between 10 and 11 p.m. on Thanksgiving will all be able to buy, for example, a 32-inch LCD TV for about $150.

The big question is: Will Walmart’s strategy result in more sales? They need it to, according to Britt Beemer, the chairman of America’s Research Group, which tracks consumer behavior. He believes consumers have been distracted by the election and haven’t started shopping as early as they did last year.

“I think the strategy is a favorable one for Walmart this year,” says Beemer. “Whether they will do that much more volume is really the $64 billion question. But I do think they’ll do more volume.”

But the night hours could work against retailers. Beemer says parents are more likely to leave a child to wait in line at night, as opposed to early in the morning. As a result, retailers may see fewer sales. That’s because the kid in line is only authorized to spend money on that specific sales item and has less discretion to make other purchases.

Don’t expect Walmart to have a monopoly on its early hours. Rival retailers have matched such schedules in the past. Analysts expect Target, Best Buy and Toys 'R' Us may follow suit this year.

But at least one retailer seems to have benefited from not opening on Thanksgiving. Nordstrom has refused to open on Thanksgiving in the past, so employees could enjoy the holiday, and Morningstar says consumers have rewarded Nordstrom with strong sales.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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